Toyota gets a glimpse at Clemson students’ vision of future mobility

The concept was designed to appeal equally to male and female buyers — primarily young and largely self-employed.

DETROIT — Toyota planners are scrutinizing a concept for an urban youth vehicle created for them by Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research vehicle development program.

Dubbed uBox, the concept unveiled today at the SAE International convention here is one part utility box and one part mobile office. The concept was designed to appeal equally to male and female buyers — primarily young and largely self-employed, says Johnell Brooks, a psychologist and Clemson associate professor who helped direct the project.

The concept was created in collaboration with Toyota’s r&d operations in Michigan. The battery-powered vehicle is intended as a mobile workstation, with flexible seating that can be turned into desks and 110-volt power plugs inside and out that would permit self-employed craftsmen or artists to use tools or equipment at a remote site, says Brian Watkins, spokesman for Toyota Motor North America’s office near Ann Arbor, Mich.

The construction uses a lightweight roof structure of bonded carbon fiber and aluminum that supports a curved glass roof, allowing more sunlight into the vehicle. It envisions light, colorful exterior body panels that can be replaced with 3-D-printed panels designed by an online owner community.

Seating can be moved around to create workspace or to allow for multiple passengers.

Inside, the body is plain, unpainted carbon fiber — reflecting a preference among young consumers for “what’s real and not decorative,” Brooks says.

Seating can be moved around to create workspace or to allow for multiple passengers.

The uBox project is Clemson’s most recent effort to get graduate students in advanced automotive fields’ input on solving product issues that are challenging automakers, including BMW and General Motors.

Former Scion idea

The project was proposed by Toyota two years ago to see what ideas Clemson might come up with for the next-generation Scion xB. But in February, Toyota announced that it was discontinuing the Scion brand.

Toyota remains interested in the uBox concept, however, Watkins says.

“We continue to look at ideas of what future consumers are going to want in their vehicles,” Watkins says.

“It’s hard to know whether any of this will trickle into our flow of future products. But we certainly wanted their insight into that young Generation Z consumer who will be buying our cars in the future.”

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